WS Atkins improves margins to increase interim pre-tax profit to £10.2m despite spending delays on rail and Tube.

WS Atkins has recorded a 43% leap in pre-tax profit for the six months to 30 September 2004. The support group says that a focus on higher margin activities and a more selective approach to contracts helped it achieve a pre-tax profit of £10.2m.

The strong results on a turnover of turnover of £463.4m enabled the group to double dividend from 2p to 4p.

In an upbeat statement outgoing chairman Michael Jeffries said: “While overall turnover growth is expected to be modest next year, the prospects in all our core markets are good, especially in the UK where the government has committed to major investment to improve public sector infrastructure.

WS Atkins said that delays in planned capital spend for Network Rail and the Highways Agency presented the company with short-term challenges. Delays in the start of the capital programme for the London Underground had also impacted on profit said the group, which has a stake in Tube maintenance PPP Metronet.

The group said it would continue to be selective about future contracts and would focus on its core competencies of planning, designing and enabling clients’ capital programmes.

In the rail sector WS Atkins said it had earmarked China as a key growth area and had invested in a development resource centre in rail signalling in Beijing. The group has also opened a new office in Bahrain to support its work in the $1bn Durrat Island project, where it is masterplanner, architect and engineer.

Jeffries will step down after 30 years with the Group and be replaced by Ed Wallis, former chair of Powergen, on 1 January 2005.